All posts by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies

Why Does Congress Fight Over Childcare But Not F-35s?

Photo credit: Rise Up Times

President Biden and the Democratic Congress are facing a crisis as the popular domestic agenda they ran on in the 2020 election is held hostage by two corporate Democratic Senators, fossil-fuel consigliere Joe Manchin and payday-lender favorite Kyrsten Sinema.

But the very week before the Dems’ $350 billion-per-year domestic package hit this wall of corporate money-bags, all but 38 House Democrats voted to hand over more than double that amount to the Pentagon. Senator Manchin has hypocritically described the domestic spending bill as “fiscal insanity,” but he has voted for a much larger Pentagon budget every year since 2016.

Real fiscal insanity is what Congress does year after year, taking most of its discretionary spending off the table and handing it over to the Pentagon before even considering the country’s urgent domestic needs. Maintaining this pattern, Congress just splashed out $12 billion for 85 more F-35 warplanes, 6 more than Trump bought last year, without debating the relative merits of buying more F-35s vs. investing $12 billion in education, healthcare, clean energy or fighting poverty.

The 2022 military spending bill (NDAA or National Defense Authorization Act) that passed the House on September 23 would hand a whopping $740 billion to the Pentagon and $38 billion to other departments (mainly the Department of Energy for nuclear weapons), for a total of $778 billion in military spending, a $37 billion increase over this year’s military budget. The Senate will soon debate its version of this bill—but don’t expect too much of a debate there either, as most senators are “yes men” when it comes to feeding the war machine.

Two House amendments to make modest cuts both failed: one by Rep. Sara Jacobs to strip $24 billion that was added to Biden’s budget request by the House Armed Services Committee; and another by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for an across-the-board 10% cut (with exceptions for military pay and healthcare).

After adjusting for inflation, this enormous budget is comparable to the peak of Trump’s arms build-up in 2020, and is only 10% below the post-WWII record set by Bush II in 2008 under cover of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would give Joe Biden the dubious distinction of being the fourth post-Cold War U.S. president to militarily outspend every Cold War president, from Truman to Bush I.

In effect, Biden and Congress are locking in the $100 billion per year arms build-up that Trump justified with his absurd claims that Obama’s record military spending had somehow depleted the military.

As with Biden’s failure to quickly rejoin the JCPOA with Iran, the time to act on cutting the military budget and reinvesting in domestic priorities was in the first weeks and months of his administration. His inaction on these issues, like his deportation of thousands of desperate asylum seekers, suggests that he is happier to continue Trump’s ultra-hawkish policies than he will publicly admit.

In 2019, the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland conducted a study in which it briefed ordinary Americans on the federal budget deficit and asked them how they would address it. The average respondent favored cutting the deficit by $376 billion, mainly by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but also by cutting an average of $51 billion from the military budget.

Even Republicans favored cutting $14 billion, while Democrats supported a much larger $100 billion cut. That would be more than the 10% cut in the failed Ocasio-Cortez Amendment, which garnered support from only 86 Democratic Reps and was opposed by 126 Dems and every Republican.

Most of the Democrats who voted for amendments to reduce spending still voted to pass the bloated final bill. Only 38 Democrats were willing to vote against a $778 billion military spending bill that, once Veterans Affairs and other related expenses are included, would continue to consume over 60% of discretionary spending.

“How’re you going to pay for it?” clearly applies only to “money for people,” never to “money for war.” Rational policy making would require exactly the opposite approach. Money invested in education, healthcare and green energy is an investment in the future, while money for war offers little or no return on investment except to weapons makers and Pentagon contractors, as was the case with the $2.26 trillion the United States wasted on death and destruction in Afghanistan.

A study by the Political Economy Research Center at the University of Massachusetts found that military spending creates fewer jobs than almost any other form of government spending. It found that $1 billion invested in the military yields an average of 11,200 jobs, while the same amount invested in other areas yields: 26,700 jobs when invested in education; 17,200 in healthcare; 16,800 in the green economy; or 15,100 jobs in cash stimulus or welfare payments.

It is tragic that the only form of Keynesian stimulus that is uncontested in Washington is the least productive for Americans, as well as the most destructive for the other countries where the weapons are used. These irrational priorities seem to make no political sense for Democratic Members of Congress, whose grassroots voters would cut military spending by an average of $100 billion per year based on the Maryland poll.

So why is Congress so out of touch with the foreign policy desires of their constituents? It is well-documented that Members of Congress have more close contact with well-heeled campaign contributors and corporate lobbyists than with the working people who elect them, and that the “unwarranted influence” of Eisenhower’s infamous Military-Industrial Complex has become more entrenched and more insidious than ever, just as he feared.

The Military-Industrial Complex exploits flaws in what is at best a weak, quasi-democratic political system to defy the will of the public and spend more public money on weapons and armed forces than the world’s next 13 military powers. This is especially tragic at a time when the wars of mass destruction that have served as a pretext for wasting these resources for 20 years may finally, thankfully, be coming to an end.

The five largest U.S. arms manufacturers (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics) account for 40% of the arms industry’s federal campaign contributions, and they have collectively received $2.2 trillion in Pentagon contracts since 2001 in return for those contributions. Altogether, 54% of military spending ends up in the accounts of corporate military contractors, earning them $8 trillion since 2001.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees sit at the very center of the Military-Industrial Complex, and their senior members are the largest recipients of arms industry cash in Congress. So it is a dereliction of duty for their colleagues to rubber-stamp military spending bills on their say-so without serious, independent scrutiny.

The corporate consolidation, dumbing down and corruption of U.S. media and the isolation of the Washington “bubble” from the real world also play a role in Congress’s foreign policy disconnect.

There is another, little-discussed reason for the disconnect between what the public wants and how Congress votes, and that can be found in a fascinating 2004 study by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations titled “The Hall of Mirrors: Perceptions and Misperceptions in the Congressional Foreign Policy Process”

The “Hall of Mirrors” study surprisingly found a broad consensus between the foreign policy views of lawmakers and the public, but that “in many cases Congress has voted in ways that are inconsistent with these consensus positions.”

The authors made a counter-intuitive discovery about the views of congressional staffers. “Curiously, staffers whose views were at odds with the majority of their constituents showed a strong bias toward assuming, incorrectly, that their constituents agreed with them,” the study found, “while staffers whose views were actually in accord with their constituents more often than not assumed this was not the case.”

This was particularly striking in the case of Democratic staffers, who were often convinced that their own liberal views placed them in a minority of the public when, in fact, most of their constituents shared the same views. Since congressional staffers are the primary advisors to members of Congress on legislative matters, these misperceptions play a unique role in Congress’s anti-democratic foreign policy.

Overall, on nine important foreign policy issues, an average of only 38% of congressional staffers could correctly identify whether a majority of the public supported or opposed a range of different policies they were asked about.

On the other side of the equation, the study found that “Americans’ assumptions about how their own member votes appear to be frequently incorrect … [I]n the absence of information, it appears that Americans tend to assume, often incorrectly, that their member is voting in ways that are consistent with how they would like their member to vote.”

It is not always easy for a member of the public to find out whether their Representative votes as they would like or not. News reports rarely discuss or link to actual roll-call votes, even though the Internet and the Congressional Clerk’s office make it easier than ever to do so.

Civil society and activist groups publish more detailed voting records. Govtrack.us lets constituents sign up for emailed notifications of every single roll-call vote in Congress. Progressive Punch tracks votes and rates Reps on how often they vote for “progressive” positions, while issues-related activist groups track and report on bills they support, as CODEPINK does at CODEPINK Congress. Open Secrets enables the public to track money in politics and see how beholden their Representatives are to different corporate sectors and interest groups.

When Members of Congress come to Washington with little or no foreign policy experience, as many do, they must take the trouble to study hard from a wide range of sources, to seek foreign policy advice from outside the corrupt Military-Industrial Complex, which has brought us only endless war, and to listen to their constituents.

The Hall of Mirrors study should be required reading for congressional staffers, and they should reflect on how they are personally and collectively prone to the misperceptions it revealed.

Members of the public should beware of assuming that their Representatives vote the way they want them to, and instead make serious efforts to find out how they really vote. They should contact their offices regularly to make their voices heard, and work with issues-related civil society groups to hold them accountable for their votes on issues they care about.

Looking forward to next year’s and future military budget fights, we must build a strong popular movement that rejects the flagrantly anti-democratic decision to transition from a brutal and bloody, self-perpetuating “war on terror” to an equally unnecessary and wasteful but even more dangerous arms race with Russia and China.

As some in Congress continue to ask how we can afford to take care of our children or ensure future life on this planet, progressives in Congress must not only call for taxing the rich but cutting the Pentagon — and not just in tweets or rhetorical flourishes, but in real policy.

While it may be too late to reverse course this year, they must stake out a line in the sand for next year’s military budget that reflects what the public desires and the world so desperately needs: to roll back the destructive, gargantuan war machine and to invest in healthcare and a livable climate, not bombs and F-35s.

The post Why Does Congress Fight Over Childcare But Not F-35s? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

U.S. Militarism’s Toxic Impact on Climate Policy

LONDON, ENGLAND: Protesters hold signs at the YouthStrike4Climate student march on April 12, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. Students are protesting across the UK due to the lack of government action to combat climate change. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

President Biden addressed the UN General Assembly on September 21 with a warning that the climate crisis is fast approaching a “point of no return,” and a promise that the United States would rally the world to action. “We will lead not just with the example of our power but, God willing, with the power of our example,” he said.

But the U.S. is not a leader when it comes to saving our planet. Yahoo News recently published a report titled “Why the U.S. Lags Behind Europe on Climate Goals by 10 or 15 years.”  The article was a rare acknowledgment in the U.S. corporate media that the United States has not only failed to lead the world on the climate crisis, but has actually been the main culprit blocking timely collective action to head off a global existential crisis.

The anniversary of September 11th and the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan should be ringing alarm bells inside the head of every American, warning us that we have allowed our government to spend trillions of dollars waging war, chasing shadows, selling arms and fueling conflict all over the world, while ignoring real existential dangers to our civilization and all of humanity.

The world’s youth are dismayed by their parents’ failures to tackle the climate crisis.  A new survey of 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 in ten countries around the world found that many of them think humanity is doomed and that they have no future.

Three-quarters of the young people surveyed said they are afraid of what the future will bring, and 40% say the crisis makes them hesitant to have children. They are also frightened, confused and angered by the failure of governments to respond to the crisis. As the BBC reported, “They feel betrayed, ignored and abandoned by politicians and adults.”

Young people in the U.S. have even more reason to feel betrayed than their European counterparts. America lags far behind Europe on renewable energy. European countries started fulfilling their climate commitments under the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s and now get 40% of their electricity from renewable sources, while renewables provide only 20% of electric power in America.

Since 1990, the baseline year for emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, Europe has cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 24%, while the United States has failed to cut them at all, spewing out 2% more than it did in 1990. In 2019, before the Covid pandemic, the United States produced more oil and more natural gas than ever before in its history.

NATO, our politicians and the corporate media on both sides of the Atlantic promote the idea that the United States and Europe share a common “Western” culture and values. But our very different lifestyles, priorities and responses to this climate crisis tell a tale of two very different, even divergent economic and political systems.

The idea that human activity is responsible for climate change was understood decades ago and is not controversial in Europe. But in America, politicians and news media have blindly or cynically parroted fraudulent, self-serving disinformation campaigns by ExxonMobil and other vested interests.

While the Democrats have been better at “listening to the scientists,” let’s not forget that, while Europe was replacing fossil fuels and nuclear plants with renewable energy, the Obama administration was unleashing a fracking boom to switch from coal-fired power plants to new plants running on fracked gas.

Why is the U.S. so far behind Europe when it comes to addressing global warming? Why do only 60% of Europeans own cars, compared with 90% of Americans? And why does each U.S. car owner clock double the mileage that European drivers do? Why does the United States not have modern, energy-efficient, widely-accessible public transportation, as Europe does?

We can ask similar questions about other stark differences between the United States and Europe. On poverty, inequality, healthcare, education and social insurance, why is the United States an outlier from what are considered societal norms in other wealthy countries?

One answer is the enormous amount of money the U.S spends on militarism. Since 2001, the United States has allocated $15 trillion (in FY2022 dollars) to its military budget, outspending its 20 closest military competitors combined.

The U.S. spends far more of its GDP (the total value of goods produced and services) on the military than any of the other 29 Nato countries—3.7% in 2020 compared to 1.77%. And while the U.S. has been putting intense pressure on NATO countries to spend at least 2% of their GDP on their militaries, only ten of them have done so. Unlike in the U.S., the military establishment in Europe has to contend with significant opposition from liberal politicians and a more educated and mobilized public.

From the lack of universal healthcare to levels of child poverty that would be unacceptable in other wealthy countries, our government’s under-investment in everything else is the inevitable result of these skewed priorities, which leave America struggling to get by on what is left over after the U.S. military bureaucracy has raked off the lion’s share – or should we say the “generals’ share”? – of the available resources.

Federal infrastructure and “social” spending in 2021 amount to only about 30% of the money spent on militarism. The infrastructure package that Congress is debating is desperately needed, but the $3.5 trillion is spread over 10 years and is not enough.

On climate change, the infrastructure bill includes only $10 billion per year for conversion to green energy, an important but small step that will not reverse our current course toward a catastrophic future. Investments in a Green New Deal must be bookended by corresponding reductions in the military budget if we are to correct our government’s perverted and destructive priorities in any lasting way. This means standing up to the weapons industry and military contractors, which the Biden administration has so far failed to do.

The reality of America’s 20-year arms race with itself makes complete nonsense of the administration’s claims that the recent arms build-up by China now requires the U.S. to spend even more. China spends only a third of what the U.S. spends, and what is driving China’s increased military spending is its need to defend itself against the ever-growing U.S. war machine that has been “pivoting” to the waters, skies and islands surrounding its shores since the Obama administration.

Biden told the UN General Assembly that “..as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy.” But his exclusive new military alliance with the U.K. and Australia, and his request for a further increase in military spending to escalate a dangerous arms race with China that the United States started in the first place, reveal just how far Biden has to go to live up to his own rhetoric, on diplomacy as well as on climate change.

The United States must go to the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in November ready to sign on to the kind of radical steps that the UN and less developed countries are calling for. It must make a real commitment to leaving fossil fuels in the ground; quickly convert to a net-zero renewable energy economy; and help developing countries to do the same. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, the summit in Glasgow “must be the turning point” in the climate crisis.

That will require the United States to seriously reduce the military budget and commit to peaceful, practical diplomacy with China and Russia. Genuinely moving on from our self-inflicted military failures and the militarism that led to them would free up the U.S. to enact programs that address the real existential crisis our planet faces – a crisis against which warships, bombs and missiles are worse than useless.

The post U.S. Militarism’s Toxic Impact on Climate Policy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Can America Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare?

Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a U.S. phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion – compared with over $28 trillion today.

We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001 “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the U.S. government’s disastrous response to them.

That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.

Most Americans believe in democracy and many regard the United States as a democratic country. But the U.S. response to 9/11 laid bare the extent to which American leaders are willing to manipulate the public into accepting illegal wars, torture, the Guantanamo gulag and sweeping civil rights abuses — activities that undermine the very meaning of democracy.

Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz said in a speech in 2011 that “a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.” But America’s leaders exploited the public’s fears in the wake of 9/11 to justify wars that have killed and maimed millions of people who had nothing to do with those crimes. Ferencz compared this to the actions of the German leaders he prosecuted at Nuremberg, who also justified their invasions of other countries as “preemptive first strikes.”

“You cannot run a country as Hitler did, feeding them a pack of lies to frighten them that they’re being threatened, so it’s justified to kill people you don’t even know,” Ferencz continued. “It’s not logical, it’s not decent, it’s not moral, and it’s not helpful. When an unmanned bomber from a secret American airfield fires rockets into a little Pakistani or Afghan village and thereby kills or maims unknown numbers of innocent people, what is the effect of that? Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice, wild vengeance is the alternative.”

Even the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, talked about “insurgent math,” conjecturing that, for every innocent person killed, the U.S. created 10 new enemies. And thus the so-called Global War on Terror fueled a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance that will not end unless and until the United States ends the state terrorism that provokes and fuels it.

By opportunistically exploiting 9/11 to attack countries that had nothing to do with it, like Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the United States vastly expanded the destructive strategy it used in the 1980s to destabilize Afghanistan, which spawned the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the first place.

In Libya and Syria, only ten years after 9/11, U.S. leaders betrayed every American who lost a loved one on September 11th by recruiting and arming Al Qaeda-led militants to overthrow two of the most secular governments in the Middle East, plunging both countries into years of intractable violence and fueling radicalization throughout the region.

The U.S. response to 9/11 was corrupted by a toxic soup of revenge, imperialist ambitions, war profiteering, systematic brainwashing and sheer stupidity. The only Republican Senator who voted against the war on Iraq, Lincoln Chafee, later wrote, “Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

But it wasn’t. Very few of the 263 Republicans or the 110 Democrats who voted for the Iraq war in 2002 paid any political price for their complicity in international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg explicitly called “the supreme international crime.” One of them now sits at the apex of power in the White House.

Trump and Biden’s withdrawal and implicit acceptance of the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan could serve as an important step toward ending the violence and chaos their predecessors unleashed after the September 11th attack. But the current debate over next year’s military budget makes it clear that our deluded leaders are still dodging the obvious lessons of 20 years of war.

Barbara Lee, the only Member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against Congress’s war resolution in 2001, has introduced a bill to cut U.S. military spending by almost half:  $350 billion per year. With the miserable failure in Afghanistan, a war that will end up costing every U.S. citizen $20,000, one would think that Rep. Lee’s proposal would be eliciting tremendous support. But the White House, the Pentagon and the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate are instead falling over each other to shovel even more money into the bottomless pit of the military budget.

Politicians’ votes on questions of war, peace and military spending are the most reliable test of their commitment to progressive values and the well-being of their constituents. You cannot call yourself a progressive or a champion of working people if you vote to appropriate more money for weapons and war than for healthcare, education, green jobs and fighting poverty.

These 20 years of war have revealed to Americans and the world that modern weapons and formidable military forces can only accomplish two things: kill and maim people; and destroy homes, infrastructure and entire cities. American promises to rebuild bombed-out cities and “remake” countries it has destroyed have proven worthless, as Biden has acknowledged.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning primarily to China for the help they need to start rebuilding and developing economically from the ruin and devastation left by America and its allies. America destroys, China builds. The contrast could not be more stark or self-evident. No amount of Western propaganda can hide what the whole world can see.

But the different paths chosen by U.S. and Chinese leaders are not predestined, and despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the U.S. corporate media, the American public has always been wiser and more committed to cooperative diplomacy than America’s political and executive class. It has been well-documented that many of the endless crises in U.S. foreign policy could have been avoided if America’s leaders had just listened to the public.

The perennial handicap that has dogged America’s diplomacy since World War II is precisely our investment in weapons and military forces, including nuclear weapons that threaten our very existence. It is trite but true to say that, ”when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Other countries don’t have the option of deploying overwhelming military force to confront international problems, so they have had to be smarter and more nimble in their diplomacy, and more prudent and selective in their more limited uses of military force.

The rote declarations of U.S. leaders that “all options are on the table” are a euphemism for precisely the “threat or use of force” that the UN Charter explicitly prohibits, and they stymie the U.S. development of expertise in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. The bumbling and bombast of America’s leaders in international arenas stand in sharp contrast to the skillful diplomacy and clear language we often hear from top Russian, Chinese and Iranian diplomats, even when they are speaking in English, their second or third language.

By contrast, U.S. leaders rely on threats, coups, sanctions and war to project power around the world. They promise Americans that these coercive methods will maintain American “leadership” or dominance indefinitely into the future, as if that is America’s rightful place in the world: sitting atop the globe like a cowboy on a bucking bronco.

A “New American Century” and “Pax Americana” are Orwellian versions of Hitler’s “Thousand-Year Reich,” but are no more realistic. No empire has lasted forever, and there is historical evidence that even the most successful empires have a lifespan of no more than 250 years, by which time their rulers have enjoyed so much wealth and power that decadence and decline inevitably set in. This describes the United States today.

America’s economic dominance is waning. Its once productive economy has been gutted and financialized, and most countries in the world now do more trade with China and/or the European Union than with the United States. Where America’s military once kicked open doors for American capital to “follow the flag” and open up new markets, today’s U.S. war machine is just a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power.

But we are not condemned to passively follow the suicidal path of militarism and hostility. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a down payment on a transition to a more peaceful post-imperial economy — if the American public starts to actively demand peace, diplomacy and disarmament and find ways to make our voices heard.

— We must get serious about demanding cuts in the Pentagon budget. None of our other problems will be solved as long as we keep allowing our leaders to flush the majority of federal discretionary spending down the same military toilet as the $2.26 trillion they wasted on the war in Afghanistan. We must oppose politicians who refuse to cut the Pentagon budget, regardless of which party they belong to and where they stand on other issues. CODEPINK is part of a new coalition to “Cut the Pentagon for the people, planet, peace and a future” — please join us!

— We must not let ourselves or our family members be recruited into the U.S. war machine. Instead, we must challenge our leaders’ absurd claims that the imperial forces deployed across the world to threaten other countries are somehow, by some convoluted logic, defending America. As a translator paraphrased Voltaire, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

— We must expose the ugly, destructive reality behind our country’s myths of “defending U.S. vital interests,” “humanitarian intervention,” “the war on terror” and the latest absurdity, the ill-defined “rules-based order” whose rules only apply to others — never to the United States.

— And we must oppose the corrupt power of the arms industry, including U.S. weapons sales to the world’s most repressive regimes and an unwinnable arms race that risks a potentially world-ending conflict with China and Russia.

Our only hope for the future is to abandon the futile quest for hegemony and instead commit to peace, cooperative diplomacy, international law and disarmament. After 20 years of war and militarism that has only left the world a more dangerous place and accelerated America’s decline, we must choose the path of peace.

The post How Can America Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Afghan Crisis Must End America’s Empire of War, Corruption and Poverty

Millions of Afghans have been displaced by the war.  Photo: MikrofonNews

Americans have been shocked by videos of thousands of Afghans risking their lives to flee the Taliban’s return to power in their country – and then by an Islamic State suicide bombing and ensuing massacre by U.S. forces that together killed at least 170 people, including 13 U.S. troops.

Even as UN agencies warn of an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury has frozen nearly all of the Afghan Central Bank’s $9.4 billion in foreign currency reserves, depriving the new government of funds that it will desperately need in the coming months to feed its people and provide basic services.

Under pressure from the Biden administration, the International Monetary Fund decided not to release $450 million in funds that were scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan to help the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. and other Western countries have also halted humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. After chairing a G7 summit on Afghanistan on August 24, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that withholding aid and recognition gave them “very considerable leverage – economic, diplomatic and political” over the Taliban.

Western politicians couch this leverage in terms of human rights, but they are clearly trying to ensure that their Afghan allies retain some power in the new government, and that Western influence and interests in Afghanistan do not end with the Taliban’s return. This leverage is being exercised in dollars, pounds and euros, but it will be paid for in Afghan lives.

To read or listen to Western analysts, one would think that the United States and its allies’ 20-year war was a benign and beneficial effort to modernize the country, liberate Afghan women and provide healthcare, education and good jobs, and that this has all now been swept away by capitulation to the Taliban.

The reality is quite different, and not so hard to understand. The United States spent $2.26 trillion on its war in Afghanistan. Spending that kind of money in any country should have lifted most people out of poverty. But the vast bulk of those funds, about $1.5 trillion, went to absurd, stratospheric military spending to maintain the U.S. military occupation, drop over 80,000 bombs and missiles on Afghans, pay private contractors, and transport troops, weapons and military equipment back and forth around the world for 20 years.

Since the United States fought this war with borrowed money, it has also cost half a trillion dollars in interest payments alone, which will continue far into the future. Medical and disability costs for U.S. soldiers wounded in Afghanistan already amount to over $175 billion, and they will likewise keep mounting as the soldiers age. Medical and disability costs for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could eventually top a trillion dollars.

So what about “rebuilding Afghanistan”? Congress appropriated $144 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001, but $88 billion of that was spent to recruit, arm, train and pay the Afghan “security forces” that have now disintegrated, with soldiers returning to their villages or joining the Taliban. Another $15.5 billion spent between 2008 and 2017 was documented as “waste, fraud and abuse” by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The crumbs left over, less than 2% of total U.S. spending on Afghanistan, amount to about $40 billion, which should have provided some benefit to the Afghan people in economic development, healthcare, education, infrastructure and humanitarian aid.

But, as in Iraq, the government the U.S installed in Afghanistan was notoriously corrupt, and its corruption only became more entrenched and systemic over time. Transparency International (TI) has consistently ranked U.S.-occupied Afghanistan as among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Western readers may think that this corruption is a long-standing problem in Afghanistan, as opposed to a particular feature of the U.S. occupation, but this is not the case. TI notes that ”it is widely recognized that the scale of corruption in the post-2001 period has increased over previous levels.” A 2009 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that “corruption has soared to levels not seen in previous administrations.”

Those administrations would include the Taliban government that U.S. invasion forces removed from power in 2001, and the Soviet-allied socialist governments that were overthrown by the U.S.-deployed precursors of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the 1980s, destroying the substantial progress they had made in education, healthcare and women’s rights.

A 2010 report by former Reagan Pentagon official Anthony H. Cordesman, entitled “How America Corrupted Afghanistan”, chastised the U.S. government for throwing gobs of money into that country with virtually no accountability.

The New York Times reported in 2013 that every month for a decade, the CIA had been dropping off suitcases, backpacks and even plastic shopping bags stuffed with U.S. dollars for the Afghan president to bribe warlords and politicians.

Corruption also undermined the very areas that Western politicians now hold up as the successes of the occupation, like education and healthcare. The education system has been riddled with schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. Afghan pharmacies are stocked with fake, expired or low quality medicines, many smuggled in from neighboring Pakistan. At the personal level, corruption was fueled by civil servants like teachers earning only one-tenth the salaries of better-connected Afghans working for foreign NGOs and contractors.

Rooting out corruption and improving Afghan lives has always been secondary to the primary U.S. goal of fighting the Taliban and maintaining or extending its puppet government’s control. As TI reported, “The U.S. has intentionally paid different armed groups and Afghan civil servants to ensure cooperation and/or information, and cooperated with governors regardless of how corrupt they were… Corruption has undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by fuelling grievances against the Afghan government and channelling material support to the insurgency.”

The endless violence of the U.S. occupation and the corruption of the U.S.-backed government boosted popular support for the Taliban, especially in rural areas where three quarters of Afghans live. The intractable poverty of occupied Afghanistan also contributed to the Taliban victory, as people naturally questioned how their occupation by wealthy countries like the United States and its Western allies could leave them in such abject poverty.

Well before the current crisis, the number of Afghans reporting that they were struggling to live on their current income increased from 60% in 2008 to 90% by 2018. A 2018 Gallup poll found the lowest levels of self-reported “well-being” that Gallup has ever recorded anywhere in the world. Afghans not only reported record levels of misery but also unprecedented hopelessness about their future.

Despite some gains in education for girls, only a third of Afghan girls attended primary school in 2019 and only 37% of adolescent Afghan girls were literate. One reason that so few children go to school in Afghanistan is that more than two million children between the ages of 6 and 14 have to work to support their poverty-stricken families.

Yet instead of atoning for our role in keeping most Afghans mired in poverty, Western leaders are now cutting off desperately needed economic and humanitarian aid that was funding three quarters of Afghanistan’s public sector and made up 40% of its total GDP.

In effect, the United States and its allies are responding to losing the war by threatening the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan with a second, economic war. If the new Afghan government does not give in to their “leverage” and meet their demands, our leaders will starve their people and then blame the Taliban for the ensuing famine and humanitarian crisis, just as they demonize and blame other victims of U.S. economic warfare, from Cuba to Iran.

After pouring trillions of dollars into endless war in Afghanistan, America’s main duty now is to help the 40 million Afghans who have not fled their country, as they try to recover from the terrible wounds and trauma of the war America inflicted on them, as well as a massive drought that devastated 40% of their crops this year and a crippling third wave of covid-19.

The U.S. should release the $9.4 billion in Afghan funds held in U.S. banks. It should shift the $6 billion allocated for the now defunct Afghan armed forces to humanitarian aid, instead of diverting it to other forms of wasteful military spending. It should encourage European allies and the IMF not to withhold funds. Instead, they should fully fund the UN 2021 appeal for $1.3 billion in emergency aid, which as of late August was less than 40% funded.

Once upon a time, the United States helped its British and Soviet allies to defeat Germany and Japan, and then helped to rebuild them as healthy, peaceful and prosperous countries. For all America’s serious faults – its racism, its crimes against humanity in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its neocolonial relations with poorer countries – America held up a promise of prosperity that people in many countries around the world were ready to follow.

If all the United States has to offer other countries today is the war, corruption and poverty it brought to Afghanistan, then the world is wise to be moving on and looking at new models to follow: new experiments in popular and social democracy; renewed emphasis on national sovereignty and international law; alternatives to the use of military force to resolve international problems; and more equitable ways of organizing internationally to tackle global crises like the Covid pandemic and the climate disaster.

The United States can either stumble on in its fruitless attempt to control the world through militarism and coercion, or it can use this opportunity to rethink its place in the world. Americans should be ready to turn the page on our fading role as global hegemon and see how we can make a meaningful, cooperative contribution to a future that we will never again be able to dominate, but which we must help to build.

The post Afghan Crisis Must End America’s Empire of War, Corruption and Poverty first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will Americans Who Were Right on Afghanistan Still Be Ignored?

Protest in Westwood, California 2002. Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

America’s corporate media are ringing with recriminations over the humiliating U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan. But very little of the criticism goes to the root of the problem, which was the original decision to militarily invade and occupy Afghanistan in the first place.

That decision set in motion a cycle of violence and chaos that no subsequent U.S. policy or military strategy could resolve over the next 20 years, in Afghanistan, Iraq or any of the other countries swept up in America’s post-9/11 wars.

While Americans were reeling in shock at the images of airliners crashing into buildings on September 11, 2001, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld held a meeting in an intact part of the Pentagon. Undersecretary Cambone’s notes from that meeting spell out how quickly and blindly U.S. officials prepared to plunge our nation into graveyards of empire in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

Cambone wrote that Rumsfeld wanted “…best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) at same time – not only UBL (Usama Bin Laden)… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

So within hours of these horrific crimes in the United States, the central question senior U.S. officials were asking was not how to investigate them and hold the perpetrators accountable, but how to use this “Pearl Harbor” moment to justify wars, regime changes and militarism on a global scale.

Three days later, Congress passed a bill authorizing the president to use military force “…against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons…”

In 2016, the Congressional Research Service reported that this Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) had been cited to justify 37 distinct military operations in 14 different countries and at sea. The vast majority of the people killed, maimed or displaced in these operations had nothing to do with the crimes of September 11. Successive administrations have repeatedly ignored the actual wording of the authorization, which only authorized the use of force against those involved in some way in the 9/11 attacks.

The only member of Congress who had the wisdom and courage to vote against the 2001 AUMF was Barbara Lee of Oakland. Lee compared it to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution and warned her colleagues that it would inevitably be used in the same expansive and illegitimate way. The final words of her floor speech echo presciently through the 20-year-long spiral of violence, chaos and war crimes it unleashed, “As we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.”

In a meeting at Camp David that weekend, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz argued forcefully for an attack on Iraq, even before Afghanistan. Bush insisted Afghanistan must come first, but privately promised Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle that Iraq would be their next target.

In the days after September 11, the U.S. corporate media followed the Bush administration’s lead, and the public heard only rare, isolated voices questioning whether war was the correct response to the crimes committed.

But former Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Ben Ferencz spoke to NPR (National Public Radio) a week after 9/11, and he explained that attacking Afghanistan was not only unwise and dangerous, but was not a legitimate response to these crimes. NPR’s Katy Clark struggled to understand what he was saying:

Clark: …do you think that the talk of retaliation is not a legitimate response to the death of 5,000 (sic) people?

Ferencz: It is never a legitimate response to punish people who are not responsible for the wrong done.

Clark: No one is saying we’re going to punish those who are not responsible.

Ferencz:  We must make a distinction between punishing the guilty and punishing others. If you simply retaliate en masse by bombing Afghanistan, let us say, or the Taliban, you will kill many people who don’t believe in what has happened, who don’t approve of what has happened.

Clark:  So you are saying that you see no appropriate role for the military in this.

Ferencz: I wouldn’t say there is no appropriate role, but the role should be consistent with our ideals. We shouldn’t let them kill our principles at the same time they kill our people. And our principles are respect for the rule of law. Not charging in blindly and killing people because we are blinded by our tears and our rage.

The drumbeat of war pervaded the airwaves, twisting 9/11 into a powerful propaganda narrative to whip up the fear of terrorism and justify the march to war. But many Americans shared the reservations of Rep. Barbara Lee and Ben Ferencz, understanding enough of their country’s history to recognize that the 9/11 tragedy was being hijacked by the same military-industrial complex that produced the debacle in Vietnam and keeps reinventing itself generation after generation to support and profit from American wars, coups and militarism.

On September 28, 2001, the Socialist Worker website published statements by 15 writers and activists under the heading, “Why we say no to war and hate.” They included Noam Chomsky, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan and me (Medea). Our statements took aim at the Bush administration’s attacks on civil liberties at home and abroad, as well as its plans for war on Afghanistan.

The late academic and author Chalmers Johnson wrote that 9/11 was not an attack on the United States but “an attack on U.S. foreign policy.” Edward Herman predicted “massive civilian casualties.” Matt Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, wrote that, “For every innocent person Bush kills in this war, five or ten terrorists will arise.” I (Medea) wrote that ”a military response will only create more of the hatred against the U.S. that created this terrorism in the first place.”

Our analysis was correct and our predictions were prescient. We humbly submit that the media and politicians should start listening to the voices of peace and sanity instead of to lying, delusional warmongers.

What leads to catastrophes like the U.S. war in Afghanistan is not the absence of convincing anti-war voices but that our political and media systems routinely marginalize and ignore voices like those of Barbara Lee, Ben Ferencz and ourselves.

That is not because we are wrong and the belligerent voices they listen to are right. They marginalize us precisely because we are right and they are wrong, and because serious, rational debates over war, peace and military spending would jeopardize some of the most powerful and corrupt vested interests that dominate and control U.S. politics on a bipartisan basis.

In every foreign policy crisis, the very existence of our military’s enormous destructive capacity and the myths our leaders promote to justify it converge in an orgy of self-serving interests and political pressures to stoke our fears and pretend that there are military “solutions” for them.

Losing the Vietnam War was a serious reality check on the limits of U.S. military power. As the junior officers who fought in Vietnam rose through the ranks to become America’s military leaders, they acted more cautiously and realistically for the next 20 years. But the end of the Cold War opened the door to an ambitious new generation of warmongers who were determined to capitalize on the U.S. post-Cold War “power dividend“.

Madeleine Albright spoke for this emerging new breed of war-hawks when she confronted General Colin Powell in 1992 with her question, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

As Secretary of State in Clinton’s second term, Albright engineered the first of a series of illegal U.S. invasions to carve out an independent Kosovo from the splintered remains of Yugoslavia. When U.K. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told her his government was “having trouble with our lawyers” over the illegality of the NATO war plan, Albright said they should just “get new lawyers.”

In the 1990s, the neocons and liberal interventionists dismissed and marginalized the idea that non-military, non-coercive approaches can more effectively resolve foreign policy problems without the horrors of war or deadly sanctions. This bipartisan war lobby then exploited the 9/11 attacks to consolidate and expand their control of U.S. foreign policy.

But after spending trillions of dollars and killing millions of people, the abysmal record of U.S. war-making since World War II remains a tragic litany of failure and defeat, even on its own terms. The only wars the United States has won since 1945 have been limited wars to recover small neocolonial outposts in Grenada, Panama and Kuwait.

Every time the United States has expanded its military ambitions to attack or invade larger or more independent countries, the results have been universally catastrophic. So our country’s absurd investment of 66% of discretionary federal spending in destructive weapons, and recruiting and training young Americans to use them, does not make us safer but only encourages our leaders to unleash pointless violence and chaos on our neighbors around the world.

Most of our neighbors have grasped by now that these forces and the dysfunctional U.S. political system that keeps them at its disposal pose a serious threat to peace and to their own aspirations for democracy. Few people in other countries want any part of America’s wars, or its revived Cold War against China and Russia, and these trends are most pronounced among America’s long-time allies in Europe and in its traditional “backyard” in Canada and Latin America.

On October 19, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld addressed B-2 bomber crews at Whiteman AFB in Missouri as they prepared to take off across the world to inflict misdirected vengeance on the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. He told them, “We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter. And you are the ones who will help achieve that goal.”

Now that dropping over 80,000 bombs and missiles on the people of Afghanistan for 20 years has failed to change the way they live, apart from killing hundreds of thousands of them and destroying their homes, we must instead, as Rumsfeld said, change the way we live.

We should start by finally listening to Barbara Lee. First, we should pass her bill to repeal the two post-9/11 AUMFs that launched our 20-year fiasco in Afghanistan and other wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

Then we should  pass her bill to redirect $350 billion per year from the U.S. military budget (roughly a 50% cut) to “increase our diplomatic capacity and for domestic programs that will keep our Nation and our people safer.”

Finally reining in America’s out-of-control militarism would be a wise and appropriate response to its epic defeat in Afghanistan, before the same corrupt interests drag us into even more dangerous wars against more formidable enemies than the Taliban.

 

The post Will Americans Who Were Right on Afghanistan Still Be Ignored? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Biden Must Call Off the B-52s Bombing Afghan Cities

American flag is lowered as U.S. soldiers leave Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, May 2, 2021. Photo: Afghan Ministry of Defense Press Office.

Nine provincial capitals in Afghanistan have fallen to the Taliban in six days – Zaranj, Sheberghan, Sar-e-Pul, Kunduz, Taloqan, Aybak, Farah, Pul-e-Khumri and Faizabad – while fighting continues in four more – Lashkargah, Kandahar, Herat & Mazar-i-Sharif. U.S. military officials now believe Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, could fall in one to three months.

It is horrific to watch the death, destruction and mass displacement of thousands of terrified Afghans and the triumph of the misogynist Taliban that ruled the nation 20 years ago. But the fall of the centralized, corrupt government propped up by the Western powers was inevitable, whether this year, next year or ten years from now.

President Biden has reacted to America’s snowballing humiliation in the graveyard of empires by once again dispatching U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to Doha to urge the government and the Taliban to seek a political solution, while at the same time dispatching B-52 bombers to attack at least two provincial capitals.

In Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, the U.S. bombing has already reportedly destroyed a high school and a health clinic. Another B-52 bombed Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan province and the home of the infamous warlord and accused war criminal Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is now the military commander of the U.S.-backed government’s armed forces.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that U.S. Reaper drones and AC-130 gunships are also still operating in Afghanistan.

The rapid disintegration of the Afghan forces that the U.S. and its Western allies have recruited, armed and trained for 20 years at a cost of about $90 billion should come as no surprise. On paper, the Afghan National Army has 180,000 troops, but in reality most are unemployed Afghans desperate to earn some money to support their families but not eager to fight their fellow Afghans. The Afghan Army is also notorious for its corruption and mismanagement.

The army and the even more beleaguered and vulnerable police forces that man isolated outposts and checkpoints around the country are plagued by high casualties, rapid turnover and desertion. Most troops feel no loyalty to the corrupt U.S.-backed government and routinely abandon their posts, either to join the Taliban or just to go home.

When the BBC asked General Khoshal Sadat, the national police chief, about the impact of high casualties on police recruitment in February 2020, he cynically replied, “When you look at recruitment, I always think about the Afghan families and how many children they have. The good thing is there is never a shortage of fighting-age males who will be able to join the force.”

But a police recruit at a checkpoint questioned the very purpose of the war, telling the BBC’s Nanna Muus Steffensen, “We Muslims are all brothers. We don’t have a problem with each other.” In that case, she asked him, why were they fighting? He hesitated, laughed nervously and shook his head in resignation. “You know why. I know why,” he said. “It’s not really our fight.”

Since 2007, the jewel of U.S. and Western military training missions in Afghanistan has been the Afghan Commando Corps or special operations forces, who comprise only 7% of Afghan National Army troops but reportedly do 70 to 80% of the fighting. But the Commandos have struggled to reach their target of recruiting, arming and training 30,000 troops, and poor recruitment from Pashtuns, the largest and traditionally dominant ethnic group, has been a critical weakness, especially from the Pashtun heartland in the South.

The Commandos and the professional officer corps of the Afghan National Army are dominated by ethnic Tajiks, effectively the successors to the Northern Alliance that the U.S. supported against the Taliban 20 years ago. As of 2017, the Commandos numbered only 16,000 to 21,000, and it is not clear how many of these Western-trained troops now serve as the last line of defense between the U.S.-backed puppet government and total defeat.

The Taliban’s speedy and simultaneous occupation of large amounts of territory all over the country appears to be a deliberate strategy to overwhelm and outflank the government’s small number of well-trained, well-armed troops. The Taliban have had more success winning the loyalty of minorities in the North and West than government forces have had recruiting Pashtuns from the South, and the government’s small number of well-trained troops cannot be everywhere at once.

But what of the United States? Its deployment of B-52 bombers, Reaper drones and AC-130 gunships are a brutal response by a failing, flailing imperial power to a historic, humiliating defeat.

The United States does not flinch from committing mass murder against its enemies. Just look at the U.S.-led destruction of Fallujah and Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria. How many Americans even know about the officially-sanctioned massacre of civilians that Iraqi forces committed when the U.S.-led coalition finally took control of Mosul in 2017, after President Trump said it should “take out the families” of Islamic State fighters?

Twenty years after Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld committed a full range of war crimes, from torture and the deliberate killing of civilians to the “supreme international crime” of aggression, Biden is clearly no more concerned than they were with criminal accountability or the judgment of history. But even from the most pragmatic and callous point of view, what can continued aerial bombardment of Afghan cities accomplish, besides a final but futile climax to the 20-year-long U.S. slaughter of Afghans by over 80,000 American bombs and missiles?

The intellectually and strategically bankrupt U.S. military and CIA bureaucracy has a history of congratulating itself for fleeting, superficial victories. It quickly declared victory in Afghanistan in 2001 and set out to duplicate its imagined conquest in Iraq. Then the short-lived success of their 2011 regime change operation in Libya encouraged the United States and its allies to turn Al Qaeda loose in Syria, spawning a decade of intractable violence and chaos and the rise of the Islamic State.

In the same manner, Biden’s unaccountable and corrupt national security advisors seem to be urging him to use the same weapons that obliterated the Islamic State’s urban bases in Iraq and Syria to attack Taliban-held cities in Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan is not Iraq or Syria. Only 26% of Afghans live in cities, compared with 71% in Iraq and 54% in Syria, and the Taliban’s base is not in the cities but in the rural areas where the other three quarters of Afghans live. Despite support from Pakistan over the years, the Taliban are not an invading force like Islamic State in Iraq but an Afghan nationalist movement that has fought for 20 years to expel foreign invasion and occupation forces from their country.

In many areas, Afghan government forces have not fled from the Taliban, as the Iraqi Army did from the Islamic State, but joined them. On August 9th, the Taliban occupied Aybak, the sixth provincial capital to fall, after a local warlord and his 250 fighters agreed to join forces with the Taliban and the governor of Samangan province handed the city over to them.

That very same day, the Afghan government’s chief negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, returned to Doha for further peace talks with the Taliban. His American allies must make it clear to him and his government, and to the Taliban, that the United States will fully support every effort to achieve a more peaceful political transition.

But the United States must not keep bombing and killing Afghans to provide cover for the U.S.-backed puppet government to avoid difficult but necessary compromises at the negotiating table to bring peace to the incredibly long-suffering, war-weary people of Afghanistan. Bombing Taliban-occupied cities and the people who live in them is a savage and criminal policy that President Biden must renounce.

The defeat of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan now seems to be unfolding even faster than the collapse of South Vietnam between 1973 and 1975 The public takeaway from the U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia was the “Vietnam syndrome,” an aversion to overseas military interventions that lasted for decades.

As we approach the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we should reflect on how the Bush administration exploited the U.S. public’s thirst for revenge to unleash this bloody, tragic and utterly futile 20-year war.

The lesson of America’s experience in Afghanistan should be a new “Afghanistan syndrome,” a public aversion to war that prevents future U.S. military attacks and invasions, rejects attempts to socially engineer the governments of other nations and leads to a new and active American commitment to peace, diplomacy and disarmament.

The post Biden Must Call Off the B-52s Bombing Afghan Cities first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Biden Helped Hardliner Raisi Win Iran Election

Woman votes in Iranian election (Photo Credit: Reuters)

It was common knowledge that a U.S. failure to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) before Iran’s June presidential election would help conservative hard-liners to win the election. Indeed, on Saturday, June 19, the conservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as the new President of Iran.

Raisi has a record of brutally cracking down on government opponents and his election is a severe blow to Iranians struggling for a more liberal, open society. He also has a history of anti-Western sentiment and says he would refuse to meet with President Biden. And while current President Rouhani, considered a moderate, held out the possibility of broader talks after the U.S. returned to the nuclear deal, Raisi will almost certainly reject broader negotiations with the United States.

Could Raisi’s victory have been averted if President Biden had rejoined the Iran deal right after coming into the White House and enabled Rouhani and the moderates in Iran to take credit for the removal of U.S. sanctions before the election? Now we will never know.

Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement drew near-universal condemnation from Democrats and arguably violated international law. But Biden’s failure to quickly rejoin the deal has left Trump’s policy in place, including the cruel “maximum pressure” sanctions that are destroying Iran’s middle class, throwing millions of people into poverty, and preventing imports of medicine and other essentials, even during a pandemic.

U.S. sanctions have provoked retaliatory measures from Iran, including suspending limits on its uranium enrichment and reducing cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Trump’s, and now Biden’s, policy has simply reconstructed the problems that preceded the JCPOA in 2015, displaying the widely recognized madness of repeating something that didn’t work and expecting a different result.

If actions speak louder than words, the U.S. seizure of 27 Iranian and Yemeni international news websites on June 22nd, based on the illegal, unilateral U.S. sanctions that are among the most contentious topics of the Vienna negotiations, suggests that the same madness still holds sway over U.S. policy.

Since Biden took office, the critical underlying question is whether he and his administration are really committed to the JCPOA or not. As a presidential candidate, Senator Sanders promised to simply rejoin the JCPOA on his first day as president, and Iran always said it was ready to comply with the agreement as soon as the United States rejoined it.

Biden has been in office for five months, but the negotiations in Vienna did not begin until April 6th. His failure to rejoin the agreement on taking office reflected a desire to appease hawkish advisers and politicians who claimed he could use Trump’s withdrawal and the threat of continued sanctions as “leverage” to extract more concessions from Iran over its ballistic missiles, regional activities and other questions.

Far from extracting more concessions, Biden’s foot-dragging only provoked further retaliatory action by Iran, especially after the assassination of an Iranian scientist and sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, both probably committed by Israel.

Without a great deal of help, and some pressure, from America’s European allies, it is unclear how long it would have taken Biden to get around to opening negotiations with Iran. The shuttle diplomacy taking place in Vienna is the result of painstaking negotiations with both sides by former European Parliament President Josep Borrell, who is now the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

The sixth round of shuttle diplomacy has now concluded in Vienna without an agreement. President-elect Raisi says he supports the negotiations in Vienna, but would not allow the United States to drag them out for a long time.

An unnamed U.S. official raised hopes for an agreement before Raisi takes office on August 3, noting that it would be more difficult to reach an agreement after that. But a State Department spokesman said talks would continue when the new government takes office, implying that an agreement was unlikely before then.

Even if Biden had rejoined the JCPOA, Iran’s moderates might still have lost this tightly managed election. But a restored JCPOA and the end of U.S. sanctions would have left the moderates in a stronger position, and set Iran’s relations with the United States and its allies on a path of normalization that would have helped to weather more difficult relations with Raisi and his government in the coming years.

If Biden fails to rejoin the JCPOA, and if the United States or Israel ends up at war with Iran, this lost opportunity to quickly rejoin the JCPOA during his first months in office will loom large over future events and Biden’s legacy as president.

If the United States does not rejoin the JCPOA before Raisi takes office, Iran’s hard-liners will point to Rouhani’s diplomacy with the West as a failed pipe-dream, and their own policies as pragmatic and realistic by contrast. In the United States and Israel, the hawks who have lured Biden into this slow-motion train-wreck will be popping champagne corks to celebrate Raisi’s inauguration, as they move in to kill the JCPOA for good, smearing it as a deal with a mass murderer.

If Biden rejoins the JCPOA after Raisi’s inauguration, Iran’s hard-liners will claim that they succeeded where Rouhani and the moderates failed, and take credit for the economic recovery that will follow the removal of U.S. sanctions.

On the other hand, if Biden follows hawkish advice and tries to play it tough, and Raisi then pulls the plug on the negotiations, both leaders will score points with their own hard-liners at the expense of majorities of their people who want peace, and the United States will be back on a path of confrontation with Iran.

While that would be the worst outcome of all, it would allow Biden to have it both ways domestically, appeasing the hawks while telling liberals that he was committed to the nuclear deal until Iran rejected it. Such a cynical path of least resistance would very likely be a path to war.

On all these counts, it is vital that Biden and the Democrats conclude an agreement with the Rouhani government and rejoin the JCPOA. Rejoining it after Raisi takes office would be better than letting the negotiations fail altogether, but this entire slow-motion train-wreck has been characterized by diminishing returns with every delay, from the day Biden took office.

Neither the people of Iran nor the people of the United States have been well served by Biden’s willingness to accept Trump’s Iran policy as an acceptable alternative to Obama’s, even as a temporary political expedient. To allow Trump’s abandonment of Obama’s agreement to stand as a long-term U.S. policy would be an even greater betrayal of the goodwill and good faith of people on all sides, Americans, allies and enemies alike.

Biden and his advisers must now confront the consequences of the position their wishful thinking and dithering has landed them in, and must make a genuine and serious political decision to rejoin the JCPOA within days or weeks.

The post How Biden Helped Hardliner Raisi Win Iran Election first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Democracies in G7 and NATO Should Reject U.S. Leadership

Photo credit: BPM Media – Protest at G7 summit in Cornwall UK

The world has been treated to successive spectacles of national leaders gathering at a G7 Summit in Cornwall and a NATO Summit in Brussels.

The U.S. corporate media have portrayed these summits as chances for President Biden to rally the leaders of the world’s democratic nations in a coordinated response to the most serious problems facing the world, from the COVID pandemic, climate change and global inequality to ill-defined “threats to democracy” from Russia and China.

But there’s something seriously wrong with this picture. Democracy means “rule by the people.” While that can take different forms in different countries and cultures, there is a growing consensus in the United States that the exceptional power of wealthy Americans and corporations to influence election results and government policies has led to a de facto system of government that fails to reflect the will of the American people on many critical issues.

So when President Biden meets with the leaders of democratic countries, he represents a country that is, in many ways, an undemocratic outlier rather than a leader among democratic nations. This is evident in:

– the “legalized bribery” of 2020’s $14.4 billion federal election, compared with recent elections in Canada and the U.K. that cost less than 1% of that, under strict rules that ensure more democratic results;

– a defeated President proclaiming baseless accusations of fraud and inciting a mob to invade the U.S. Congress on January 6 2021;

– news media that have been commercialized, consolidated, gutted and dumbed down by their corporate owners, making Americans easy prey for misinformation by unscrupulous interest groups, and leaving the U.S. in 44th place on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index;

– the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with over two million people behind bars, and systemic police violence on a scale never seen in other wealthy nations;

– the injustice of extreme inequality, poverty and cradle-to-grave debt for millions in an otherwise wealthy nation;

– an exceptional lack of economic and social mobility compared to other wealthy countries that is the antithesis of the mythical “American Dream”;

– privatized, undemocratic and failing education and healthcare systems;

– a recent history of illegal invasions, massacres of civilians, torture, drone assassinations, extraordinary renditions and indefinite detention at Guantanamo—with no accountabllity;

– and, last but not least, a gargantuan war machine capable of destroying the world, in the hands of this dysfunctional political system.

Fortunately, though, Americans are not the only ones asking what is wrong with American democracy. The Alliance of Democracies Foundation (ADF), founded by former Danish Prime Minister and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, conducted a poll of 50,000 people in 53 countries between February and April 2021, and found that people around the world share our concerns about America’s dystopian political system and imperial outrages.

Probably the most startling result of the poll to Americans would be its finding that more people around the world (44%) see the United States as a threat to democracy in their countries than China (38%) or Russia (28%), which makes nonsense of U.S. efforts to justify its revived Cold War on Russia and China in the name of democracy.

In a larger poll of 124,000 people that ADF conducted in 2020, countries where large majorities saw the United States as a danger to democracy included China, but also Germany, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, France, Greece, Belgium, Sweden and Canada.

After tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle, Biden swooped into Brussels on Air Force One for a NATO summit to advance its new “Strategic Concept,” which is nothing more than a war plan for World War III against both Russia and China.

But we take solace from evidence that the people of Europe, whom the NATO war plan counts on as front-line troops and mass casualty victims, are not ready to follow President Biden to war. A January 2021 survey by the European Council on Foreign Affairs found that large majorities of Europeans want to remain neutral in any U.S. war on Russia or China. Only 22% would want their country to take the U.S. side in a war on China, and 23% in a war on Russia.

Few Americans realize that Biden already came close to war with Russia in March and April, when the United States and NATO supported a new Ukrainian offensive in its civil war against Russian-allied separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Russia moved tens of thousands of heavily-armed troops to its borders with Ukraine, to make it clear that it was ready to defend its Ukrainian allies and was quite capable of doing so. On April 13th, Biden blinked, turned round two U.S. destroyers that were steaming into the Black Sea and called Putin to request the summit that is now taking place.

The antipathy of ordinary people everywhere toward the U.S. determination to provoke military confrontation with Russia and China begs serious questions about the complicity of their leaders in these incredibly dangerous, possibly suicidal, U.S. policies. When ordinary people all over the world can see the dangers and pitfalls of following the United States as a model and a leader, why do their neoliberal leaders keep showing up to lend credibility to the posturing of U.S. leaders at summits like the G7 and NATO?

Maybe it is precisely because the United States has succeeded in what the corporate ruling classes of other nations also aspire to, namely, greater concentrations of wealth and power and less public interference in their “freedom” to accumulate and control them.

Maybe the leaders of other wealthy countries and military powers are genuinely awed by the dystopian American Dream as the example par excellence of how to sell inequality, injustice and war to the public in the name of freedom and democracy.

In that case, the fact that people in other wealthy countries are not so easily led to war or lured into political passivity and impotence would only increase the awe of their leaders for their American counterparts, who literally laugh all the way to the bank as they pay lip service to the sanctity of the American Dream and the American People.

Ordinary people in other countries are right to be wary of the Pied Piper of American “leadership,” but their rulers should be too. The fracturing and disintegration of American society should stand as a warning to neoliberal governments and ruling classes everywhere to be more careful what they wish for.

Instead of a world in which other countries emulate or fall victim to America’s failed experiment in extreme neoliberalism, the key to a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous future for all the world’s people, including Americans, lies in working together, learning from each other and adopting policies that serve the public good and improve the lives of all, especially those most in need. There’s a name for that. It’s called democracy.

 

The post Why Democracies in G7 and NATO Should Reject U.S. Leadership first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Democracies in G7 and NATO Should Reject U.S. Leadership

Photo credit: BPM Media – Protest at G7 summit in Cornwall UK

The world has been treated to successive spectacles of national leaders gathering at a G7 Summit in Cornwall and a NATO Summit in Brussels.

The U.S. corporate media have portrayed these summits as chances for President Biden to rally the leaders of the world’s democratic nations in a coordinated response to the most serious problems facing the world, from the COVID pandemic, climate change and global inequality to ill-defined “threats to democracy” from Russia and China.

But there’s something seriously wrong with this picture. Democracy means “rule by the people.” While that can take different forms in different countries and cultures, there is a growing consensus in the United States that the exceptional power of wealthy Americans and corporations to influence election results and government policies has led to a de facto system of government that fails to reflect the will of the American people on many critical issues.

So when President Biden meets with the leaders of democratic countries, he represents a country that is, in many ways, an undemocratic outlier rather than a leader among democratic nations. This is evident in:

– the “legalized bribery” of 2020’s $14.4 billion federal election, compared with recent elections in Canada and the U.K. that cost less than 1% of that, under strict rules that ensure more democratic results;

– a defeated President proclaiming baseless accusations of fraud and inciting a mob to invade the U.S. Congress on January 6 2021;

– news media that have been commercialized, consolidated, gutted and dumbed down by their corporate owners, making Americans easy prey for misinformation by unscrupulous interest groups, and leaving the U.S. in 44th place on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index;

– the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with over two million people behind bars, and systemic police violence on a scale never seen in other wealthy nations;

– the injustice of extreme inequality, poverty and cradle-to-grave debt for millions in an otherwise wealthy nation;

– an exceptional lack of economic and social mobility compared to other wealthy countries that is the antithesis of the mythical “American Dream”;

– privatized, undemocratic and failing education and healthcare systems;

– a recent history of illegal invasions, massacres of civilians, torture, drone assassinations, extraordinary renditions and indefinite detention at Guantanamo—with no accountabllity;

– and, last but not least, a gargantuan war machine capable of destroying the world, in the hands of this dysfunctional political system.

Fortunately, though, Americans are not the only ones asking what is wrong with American democracy. The Alliance of Democracies Foundation (ADF), founded by former Danish Prime Minister and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, conducted a poll of 50,000 people in 53 countries between February and April 2021, and found that people around the world share our concerns about America’s dystopian political system and imperial outrages.

Probably the most startling result of the poll to Americans would be its finding that more people around the world (44%) see the United States as a threat to democracy in their countries than China (38%) or Russia (28%), which makes nonsense of U.S. efforts to justify its revived Cold War on Russia and China in the name of democracy.

In a larger poll of 124,000 people that ADF conducted in 2020, countries where large majorities saw the United States as a danger to democracy included China, but also Germany, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, France, Greece, Belgium, Sweden and Canada.

After tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle, Biden swooped into Brussels on Air Force One for a NATO summit to advance its new “Strategic Concept,” which is nothing more than a war plan for World War III against both Russia and China.

But we take solace from evidence that the people of Europe, whom the NATO war plan counts on as front-line troops and mass casualty victims, are not ready to follow President Biden to war. A January 2021 survey by the European Council on Foreign Affairs found that large majorities of Europeans want to remain neutral in any U.S. war on Russia or China. Only 22% would want their country to take the U.S. side in a war on China, and 23% in a war on Russia.

Few Americans realize that Biden already came close to war with Russia in March and April, when the United States and NATO supported a new Ukrainian offensive in its civil war against Russian-allied separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Russia moved tens of thousands of heavily-armed troops to its borders with Ukraine, to make it clear that it was ready to defend its Ukrainian allies and was quite capable of doing so. On April 13th, Biden blinked, turned round two U.S. destroyers that were steaming into the Black Sea and called Putin to request the summit that is now taking place.

The antipathy of ordinary people everywhere toward the U.S. determination to provoke military confrontation with Russia and China begs serious questions about the complicity of their leaders in these incredibly dangerous, possibly suicidal, U.S. policies. When ordinary people all over the world can see the dangers and pitfalls of following the United States as a model and a leader, why do their neoliberal leaders keep showing up to lend credibility to the posturing of U.S. leaders at summits like the G7 and NATO?

Maybe it is precisely because the United States has succeeded in what the corporate ruling classes of other nations also aspire to, namely, greater concentrations of wealth and power and less public interference in their “freedom” to accumulate and control them.

Maybe the leaders of other wealthy countries and military powers are genuinely awed by the dystopian American Dream as the example par excellence of how to sell inequality, injustice and war to the public in the name of freedom and democracy.

In that case, the fact that people in other wealthy countries are not so easily led to war or lured into political passivity and impotence would only increase the awe of their leaders for their American counterparts, who literally laugh all the way to the bank as they pay lip service to the sanctity of the American Dream and the American People.

Ordinary people in other countries are right to be wary of the Pied Piper of American “leadership,” but their rulers should be too. The fracturing and disintegration of American society should stand as a warning to neoliberal governments and ruling classes everywhere to be more careful what they wish for.

Instead of a world in which other countries emulate or fall victim to America’s failed experiment in extreme neoliberalism, the key to a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous future for all the world’s people, including Americans, lies in working together, learning from each other and adopting policies that serve the public good and improve the lives of all, especially those most in need. There’s a name for that. It’s called democracy.

 

The post Why Democracies in G7 and NATO Should Reject U.S. Leadership first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Emperor’s New Rules

Credit:  pinterest.com

The world is reeling in horror at the latest Israeli massacre of hundreds of men, women and children in Gaza. Much of the world is also shocked by the role of the United States in this crisis, as it keeps providing Israel with weapons to kill Palestinian civilians, in violation of U.S. and international law, and has repeatedly blocked action by the UN Security Council to impose a ceasefire or hold Israel accountable for its war crimes.

In contrast to U.S. actions, in nearly every speech or interview, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken keeps promising to uphold and defend the “rules-based order.” But he has never clarified whether he means the universal rules of the United Nations Charter and international law, or some other set of rules he has yet to define. What rules could possibly legitimize the kind of destruction we just witnessed in Gaza, and who would want to live in a world ruled by them?

We have both spent many years protesting the violence and chaos the United States and its allies inflict on millions of people around the world by violating the UN Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of military force, and we have always insisted that the U.S. government should comply with the rules-based order of international law.

But even as the United States’ illegal wars and support for allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia have reduced cities to rubble and left country after country mired in intractable violence and chaos, U.S. leaders have refused to even acknowledge that aggressive and destructive U.S. and allied military operations violate the rules-based order of the United Nations Charter and international law.

President Trump was clear that he was not interested in following any “global rules,” only supporting U.S. national interests. His National Security Advisor John Bolton explicitly prohibited National Security Council staff attending the 2018 G20 Summit in Argentina from even uttering the words “rules-based order.”

So you might expect us to welcome Blinken’s stated commitment to the “rules-based order” as a long-overdue reversal in U.S. policy. But when it comes to a vital principle like this, it is actions that count, and the Biden administration has yet to take any decisive action to bring U.S. foreign policy into compliance with the UN Charter or international law.

For Secretary Blinken, the concept of a “rules-based order” seems to serve mainly as a cudgel with which to attack China and Russia. At a May 7 UN Security Council meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that instead of accepting the already existing rules of international law, the United States and its allies are trying to come up with “other rules developed in closed, non-inclusive formats, and then imposed on everyone else.”

The UN Charter and the rules of international law were developed in the 20th century precisely to codify the unwritten and endlessly contested rules of customary international law with explicit, written rules that would be binding on all nations.

The United States played a leading role in this legalist movement in international relations, from the Hague Peace Conferences at the turn of the 20th century to the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco in 1945 and the revised Geneva Conventions in 1949, including the new Fourth Geneva Convention to protect civilians, like the countless numbers killed by American weapons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Gaza.

As President Franklin Roosevelt described the plan for the United Nations to a joint session of Congress on his return from Yalta in 1945:

It ought to spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries – and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all these a universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join. I am confident that the Congress and the American people will accept the results of this conference as the beginning of a permanent structure of peace.

But America’s post-Cold War triumphalism eroded U.S. leaders’ already half-hearted commitment to those rules. The neocons argued that they were no longer relevant and that the United States must be ready to impose order on the world by the unilateral threat and use of military force, exactly what the UN Charter prohibits. Madeleine Albright and other Democratic leaders embraced new doctrines of “humanitarian intervention” and a “responsibility to protect” to try to carve out politically persuasive exceptions to the explicit rules of the UN Charter.

America’s “endless wars,” its revived Cold War on Russia and China, its blank check for the Israeli occupation and the political obstacles to crafting a more peaceful and sustainable future are some of the fruits of these bipartisan efforts to challenge and weaken the rules-based order.

Today, far from being a leader of the international rules-based system, the United States is an outlier. It has failed to sign or ratify about fifty important and widely accepted multilateral treaties on everything from children’s rights to arms control. Its unilateral sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and other countries are themselves violations of international law, and the new Biden administration has shamefully failed to lift these illegal sanctions, ignoring UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ request to suspend such unilateral coercive measures during the pandemic.

So is Blinken’s “rules-based order” a recommitment to President Roosevelt’s “permanent structure of peace,” or is it, in fact, a renunciation of the United Nations Charter and its purpose, which is peace and security for all of humanity?

In the light of Biden’s first few months in power, it appears to be the latter. Instead of designing a foreign policy based on the principles and rules of the UN Charter and the goal of a peaceful world, Biden’s policy seems to start from the premises of a $753 billion U.S. military budget, 800 overseas military bases, endless U.S. and allied wars and massacres, and massive weapons sales to repressive regimes. Then it works backward to formulate a policy framework to somehow justify all that.

Once a “war on terror” that only fuels terrorism, violence and chaos was no longer politically viable, hawkish U.S. leaders—both Republicans and Democrats—seem to have concluded that a return to the Cold War was the only plausible way to perpetuate America’s militarist foreign policy and multi-trillion-dollar war machine.

But that raised a new set of contradictions. For 40 years, the Cold War was justified by the ideological struggle between the capitalist and communist economic systems. But the U.S.S.R. disintegrated and Russia is now a capitalist country. China is still governed by its Communist Party, but has a managed, mixed economy similar to that of Western Europe in the years after the Second World War – an efficient and dynamic economic system that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in both cases.

So how can these U.S. leaders justify their renewed Cold War? They have floated the notion of a struggle between “democracy and authoritarianism.” But the United States supports too many horrific dictatorships around the world, especially in the Middle East, to make that a convincing pretext for a Cold War against Russia and China.

A U.S. “global war on authoritarianism” would require confronting repressive U.S. allies like Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, not arming them to the teeth and shielding them from international accountability as the United States is doing.

So, just as American and British leaders settled on non-existent “WMD”s as the pretext they could all agree on to justify their war on Iraq, the U.S. and its allies have settled on defending a vague, undefined “rules-based order” as the justification for their revived Cold War on Russia and China.

But like the emperor’s new clothes in the fable and the WMDs in Iraq, the United States’ new rules don’t really exist. They are just its latest smokescreen for a foreign policy based on illegal threats and uses of force and a doctrine of “might makes right.”

We challenge President Biden and Secretary Blinken to prove us wrong by actually joining the rules-based order of the UN Charter and international law. That would require a genuine commitment to a very different and more peaceful future, with appropriate contrition and accountability for the United States’ and its allies’ systematic violations of the UN Charter and international law, and the countless violent deaths, ruined societies, and widespread chaos they have caused.

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